Appalachia, attorney general, Betty Caldwell, Cap Hatfield, cemeteries, Devil Anse Hatfield, feuds, Hatfield-McCoy Feud, history, Howard B. Lee, Jim Comstock, Logan, Logan County, Nancy Hatfield, politics, Republican Party, Robert Elliott Hatfield, Sarah Ann, Tennis Hatfield, West Virginia, West Virginia Women, Willis Hatfield
Howard B. Lee, former Attorney General of West Virginia, provided this account of Nancy Hatfield (widow of Cap) in the early 1970s:
Over the years, much has been written about the male members of the Hatfield clan who took part in that early orgy of blood-letting–the Hatfield-McCoy feud. But nothing has been said concerning the indomitable wives of that stalwart breed of men.
My purpose is to pay a richly deserved tribute to one of those pioneer women–the late Nancy Elizabeth, wife of William Anderson Hatfield, common known “Cap,” second son of Devil Anse, and the most deadly killer of the feud.
More than 30 years have passed since I last talked with her; but I still regard Nancy Elizabeth Hatfield as the most remarkable and unforgettable woman of the mountains.
In the spring of 1924, I was a candidate in the primary election for the Republican nomination for attorney general, and I wanted the Hatfield influence. Devil Anse had died in 1921, and his mantle of leadership of the clan had fallen to his oldest living son, Cap–a power in Logan County politics.
I had met Cap, casually, in 1912, but I had not seen him since that meeting. But his sister, Mrs. Betty Caldwell, and her husband, lived in my county of Mercer, and were among my political supporters. To pave the way for my later meeting with Cap, I had Mrs. Caldwell write and ask him to support me.
Later, when campaigning in the City of Logan, I engaged a taxi to take me the few miles up Island Creek to Cap’s home. The car stopped suddenly and the driver pointed to a comfortable-looking farm house on the other side of the creek and said:
“That’s Cap’s home, and that’s Cap out there by the barn.”
I told him to return for me in two hours.
Cap saw me get out of the car, and, as I crossed the creek on an old-fashioned footlog. I saw him fold his arms across his chest and slip his right hand under his coat. Later, I noticed a large pistol holstered under his left arm. Even in that late day, Cap took no chances with strangers. When I got within speaking distance, I told him my name, and that I had come to solicit his support in my campaign for attorney general. He gave me a hearty handclasp, and said:
“My sister, Mrs. Caldwell, wrote us about you. But, let’s go to the house, my wife is the politician in our family.”
Cap was reluctant to commit himself “so early.” But Nancy Elizabeth thought otherwise. Finally, Cap agreed to support me; and, with that point settled, we visited until my taxi returned.
Meanwhile, with Cap’s approval, Nancy Elizabeth gave me the accompanying, heretofore unpublished photograph of the Devil Anse Clan. In 1963 I rephotographed it and sent a print to Willis Hatfield (number 22 in picture), only survivor of Devil Anse, who made the identification. Nancy Elizabeth is number 16, and the baby in her lap is her son, Robert Elliott, born April 29, 1897. Therefore, the photograph must have been made late in 1897, or early in 1898.
A few months after Cap’s death (August 22, 1930), the West Virginia newspaper publishers and editors held their annual convention in Logan. I was invited to address the group at a morning session. That same day, Sheriff Joe Hatfield and his brother, Tennis, younger brothers of Cap, gave an ox-roast dinner for the visiting newsmen and their guests. The picnic was held on a narrow strip of bottom land, on Island Creek, a half-mile below the old home of Devil Anse.
I ate lunch with Nancy Elizabeth and her sister-in-law, Betty Caldwell. After lunch, at the suggestion of Mrs. Caldwell, we three drove up the creek to the old home of her father–Devil Anse. It was a large, two-story, frame structure (since destroyed by fire, then occupied by Tennis Hatfield, youngest son of Devil Anse).
The most interesting feature in the old home was Devil Anse’s gun-room. Hanging along its walls were a dozen, or more, high-powered rifles, and a number of large caliber pistols, ranging from teh earliest to the latest models. “The older guns,” said Nancy Elizabeth, “were used in the feud.”
As we returned, we stopped at the family cemetery that clings uncertainly to the steep mountainside, overlooking the picnic grounds. There, among the mountains he loved and ruled, old Devil Anse found peace. A life-size statue of the old man, carved in Italy (from a photograph) of the finest Carrara marble, stands in majestic solitude above his grave. On its four-foot high granite base are carved the names of his wife and their thirteen children.
Source: West Virginia Women (Richwood, WV: Jim Comstock, 1974), p. 149-151